German Chancellor Angela Merkel has said she assumes the deadly truck assault on a crowded Berlin Christmas market was a terrorist attack.
“This is a very difficult day for Germany,” Merkel said on Tuesday after 12 people were killed, including a Polish passenger found shot dead in the lorry, and around 50 were injured in Monday’s attack.
“We must assume from the current position that it was a terrorist attack”, said the chancellor.
Authorities said the main suspect in the attack is 23-year-old Naved B, a refugee possibly from Pakistan, who arrived in Germany a year ago and has been living in a refugee home.
The suspect has denied any involvement in the attack, security officials have told dpa.
The attack at Breitscheidplatz by Berlin’s historic Kaiser Wilhelm Memorial Church underlines the enormous political risks that Merkel faces as a result of her decision last year to open Germany’s borders to about 900,000 refugees fleeing war in the Middle East.
Since then, Merkel’s government has tightened the nation’s asylum laws and stepped up deportations of failed asylum seekers.
Berlin’s lorry attack comes less than six months after two attacks in Germany inspired by the Islamic State extremist group and the Bastille Day attack in the French city of Nice, which left 86 dead.
Monday’s attack also came as Germany begins to gear up for a series of key elections next year culminating in a national poll in September, amid fears the nation’s extreme right could mobilize voters angry about the attacks and the number of refugees in the country.
In her comments on Tuesday, Merkel said all of Germany was united in grief, adding that it was particularly painful as it appeared the attacker “came to Germany for protection and asylum.”
A large contingent of German police swooped on Berlin’s largest refugee shelter earlier Tuesday as they stepped up their investigation into the attack.
“Like millions of people in Germany, I am deeply saddened and horrified at what happened yesterday at Berlin’s Breitscheidplatz,” said Merkel.
Christmas markets have a long history in Germany stretching back to the Middle Ages.
However, more recently they have grown dramatically and have become popular places to socialize – to drink mulled wine and to eat snacks in the weeks running up to Christmas.
“We do not want to live in fear of evil,” Merkel added, saying that Germans should continue to visit Christmas markets despite the attack.
Security officials told dpa that the suspected attacker arrived via the Balkan migration route, which up until recently was the main thoroughfare for refugees fleeing conflict in the Middle East to make their way to northern Europe.
The officials said Naved B, who has used two aliases, was known to police for petty crimes but had no known links to radical Islam.
He was registered with authorities in February and had lived at an asylum shelter in Berlin.
He was caught by police several kilometres from the where the attack took place after witnesses said the driver of the lorry fled the scene.
The truck, which drove into the market at high speed, was registered in Poland and police believe it was hijacked on the outskirts of Berlin. They think the dead passenger is the original Polish driver of the lorry.(dpa/NAN)